Graduating high school at 16-years–old is an impressive accomplishment and something that should be celebrated, especially for an energetic, bubbly young woman like Helen Rutherford. But despite coming across the finish line early, like most high school graduates, Helen was posed with the big question -- What’s next?
With a gap after high school and prior to beginning her pursuit of a four-year collegiate degree, she decided to fill her time with a shorter term education option. She went to the Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC) in search of classes in the automotive technical field, however, some misfortune ended up turning into an opportunity.
“I actually went in to sign-up for classes for auto mechanics, because I didn’t know anything about cars, so I thought, I may as well learn,” Helen explained. “Unfortunately, the auto classes were full, but they asked me if I would want to take some machining classes. I started machining and it was really fun. I really enjoyed it and decided to stick with it.”
This pivot to machining ended up putting Helen on a path that would lead her to the KCNSC through the Honeywell Opportunity for Prosperity through Education Scholarship (HOPE) program. HOPE was created in 2017 to help build a pipeline of young talent for manufacturing positions in the Kansas City metro and Albuquerque, New Mexico areas. Helen’s first introduction to the program came when Honeywell partially funded the addition of a 5-Axis Mill Machine to KCKCC. She was one of the first students who was introduced to the new technology, and quickly stuck out to Weston White, Senior Manufacturing Manager, who then briefed her on the HOPE scholarship and its benefits.
Helen wasted little time and applied to the program before being accepted in the fall of 2019. After completing her machining certificate from KCKCC, she was encouraged to apply for a position at KCNSC. Her passion for the work paired with her experience in operating the 5-Axis Mill and other technologies, often used at the KCNSC, made her a prime candidate for the role. In December of 2020, she was hired as a Machinist in the Manufacturing Innovation department (M55), making her the organization’s fourth hire through the HOPE scholarship program. The official start to her career had to wait for three months, as she was awaiting her 18th birthday, and in March she was finally able to join the KCNSC team.
“It was kind of scary at first,” Helen recalled of her first days at the KCNSC. “It’s my first job, so it was a little bit scary, but everyone was really great. I feel like being a HOPE Scholar definitely helped in the process for me getting hired.”
Since then, Helen has been spending most of her time training in the Mock Factory in Building 23. She says despite her initial intimidation, she feels a comfort level that will allow her to hit the ground running once she is able to be on the factory floor, much of this due to the real-world environment she has been able to learn in, alongside those mentors who have helped her along the way.
“It’s been a pretty easy transition because I have a good support system here,” she explained. “Working in the Mock Factory has helped a lot. It does a really good job of getting you acclimated to the processes here and what we need to do.”
Helen has received a strong welcome during the early months of her career, and with her being one of a small number of females in her department. She hopes that her addition can help continue a wave of more women into machining as well as other manufacturing roles throughout the plant that have generally been occupied be men.
“I would love it if I could be a role model for other young women,” Helen said. “That would make me so happy to get more women introduced into machining and just the STEM fields in general. It’d be great if I could help usher in more women into this field.”
Helen’s career at the KCNSC, while still in its infancy, is already off to an impressive start. When asked what her favorite aspect of her job have been so far, she didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“The people,” she said. “Everyone has been really nice, accepting and very helpful.”
There is little doubt that the HOPE scholarship program is doing its job in bringing some of the best and brightest young minds from our communities into these all-important manufacturing roles. Helen’s path to our team confirms this and, with more HOPE hires like her, the KCNSC is sure to be in good hands for years to come.
To learn more about the HOPE scholarship program, click here.